Most personal and private chefs think that making the best selection of meat often is the most expensive. For steak, the most prized are t-bones, tenderloins, Filet Mignon, New York Strip, and prime rib.
But should we start questioning if we’re always getting “the best“?
There is a correlation between the desire for these cuts and their price: the more in demand they are, like any product, the higher the price. But why exactly do chefs prefer these cuts? Most of these cuts are located on the upper half of animals, and get less exercise and accumulate less fat. Leaner meats, like ground beef or stew meat, are far less expensive.
Most of the flavor in meat develops as it cooks. The fat in the meat produces a Malliard Reaction. Essentially, amino acids and sugars combine to develop new flavors. Pricier cuts tend to contain higher fat content which enhances the process and produces a tender and more desirable texture.
Still, the meat itself does not need to be rich in fat: marinades and other fats can still simulate the process and produce equally bold flavors and delicious results. And some of the most naturally flavorful and nutrient rich parts of meat are the ones chefs throw away.
Think Before you Toss
Organ meats are eaten rarely in American cuisine, but it was not always that way. As industrialized farming increased, so did the availability to produce more meat at higher yields, for less. While organ meats have been eaten during times of war and food rationing, they tend to fall by the wayside when selection and availability of specific cuts is plenty.
But always tossing organ meats is a mistake. While organ meats like liver can be higher in cholesterol than lean meat, they are incredibly rich in essential vitamins like Vitamin A, B Vitamins, amino acids, selenium, and folate. And other organ and muscle meats, like heart and tongue are actually quite lean.
And from a culinary perspective? They’re full of flavor and incredibly versatile. It just takes proper preparation to cook these meats in a way that will satisfy all palettes, and enhance ordinary dishes.
Here’s a look at two top picks for organ meats and how to prepare them.
Organ/ Muscle Meat Selection: Heart
Heart doesn’t sound appetizing, and less adventurous clients might initially reject the idea. The advice for all organ meats: practice, prepare, and offer samples.
Heart is a lean muscle, and when cooked properly, produces a tender and mild meat. Both beef and veal hearts are smart choices.
Prepare it: The first step is to trim away the fat. A thin and sharp blade is ideal to cut off the outer layer of skin and any surrounding fatty tissue. With beef heart, you need to look for fatty pockets inside the heart, which should be removed. Fat can be saved to make your own tallow for more flavorful cooking. After you’ve removed the connective tissue, rinse the heart in cold water to remove excess blood ( a salt bath is recommended for best results). Coarse sea salt soaks help any organ meat both drain blood and develop flavor.
Get Inspired: Heart can be prepared in a number of ways: pan fry medium rare, like you would a steak; just make sure to use low heat so the heart will stay tender. You can also grill with low heat to the same doneness. It can also be made as a tenderloin over a salad, as seen here. The key is to treat heart like you would any leaner and gamier meat: with plenty of salt, seasoning, low heat, and sauces or marinades. Try with chimichurri, a balsamic butter reduction, or a mole. It also works well in a hearty stew.
Organ/ Muscle Meat Selection: Tongue
Tongue has a reputation for being on tough or dry, but it’s actual wonderfully tender. Like heart, tongue is lean, and usually comes from beef, veal, sheep or pig. Beef and vela tongue are the most used because it has more flavor than sheep’s tongue, and are considered the most tender.
Prepare It: Tongue is best slow cooked: add seasonings like garlic and herbs to a slow cooker, plenty of water, and cook for two to three hours, or until the tongue is tender. Slow cooking is an excellent choice because it prevents the tongue from drying out and develops rich and complex flavor. After it’s cooled, discard the outer skin. From there, thinly slice or dice as you would a lean meat. For a simple take, serve with everyday condiments like steak sauce or horseradish.
Get Inspired: Slow cooking leads itself to countless options. Try a barbecue version or a more classic onions and garlic rendition, served alongside mashed potatoes. Pickled tongue or thinly sliced works well on sandwiches, or make tacos.